Agents in Don Dhet can sell tickets for the overnight train from Ubon Ratchathani to Bangkok. Essentially it’s the bus to Pakse, waiting until the minibus to Ubon Ratchathani, then the sleeper train. 1st class a/c costs 600,000 kip, 2nd class a/c costs 550,000 kip, 2nd class fan costs 390,000 kip.
Most people get to Don Dhet from Pakse—it’s easy to book a ticket through one of the many agents or guesthouses. Tourist minivans leave daily at 08:00 for 55,000 kip. They reach Nakasang at 10:30 where travellers can catch the boat to Don Dhet or Don Khon. Sometimes the boat is included in the price of the ticket, check on the inclusions when purchasing.
If you head out to Pakse’s Southern bus station (km-8 bus station) on your own, you’re looking for local buses to Nakasang. Departures are usually 08:00, 09:30, 10:00, 11:00, 12:00, 13:00, 14:00, 15:00, 16:00, and the price is 50,000 kip. Songthaews leave when full.
Leaving Don Dhet, you’ll end up either heading north to Pakse or through the Cambodian border – there really isn’t any other direction to go.
South to Cambodia
Cambodia-bound travellers depart en masse at 08:00. Passengers are loaded into boats, shuttled to Nakasang where the receipt your travel agent or guesthouse gave you is usually checked or exchanged for a bus ticket. Despite the fact that this process is done every day, it can be disorganised and more tedious than it need be. In the end, everyone usually gets to where they need to go.
Factoring the time going through the border, people are stamped into Cambodia by 11:30.
To Siem Reap and Stung Treng, the best is the direct minibus service by Asia Van Transfer Company. It’s usually a good air-conditioned large passenger van, the journey from the border taking as little as 6 hrs along new road 64. With a lunch stop, you’ll arrive at around 18:30 with drop off at your Siem Reap guesthouse included. Book in advance by email where you’ll have to make your own way to the border, or buy a through ticket with an agent in Don Dhet. The agent price is US$25. Tickets from Stung Treng to Siem Reap can also be purchased online with BookMeBus for slightly less.
Road conditions in Cambodia can easily change but as of late 2016, it was mostly good roads to Phnom Penh as well. It’s serviced by less reliable Sorya Transport. Fewer backpackers head to Phnom Penh from Don Dhet. If there’s enough passengers the company will use their own big bus. If not, after the border you’ll be unceremoniously put onto the local bus.
Departure time is from Don Dhet and length of travel time measured from start. Listed are agent prices which should include boat transfer to Nakasang.
Siem Reap departs at 08:00. Takes 10.5 hrs and costs US$25.
Phnom Penh departs at 08:00. Takes 12.5 hrs and costs US$23.
Stung Treng departs at 08:00. Takes 4.5 hrs and costs US$12.
Banlung departs at 08:00. Takes 8.5 hrs and costs US$17.
Kratie departs at 08:00. Takes 7.5 hrs and costs US$16.
Kampong Cham departs at 08:00. Takes 9 hrs and costs US$18.
Champasak departs at 11:00. Takes 2 hrs and costs 50,000 kip (includes ferry to Champasak).
Don Khong departs at 11:00. Takes 1.5 hrs and costs 40,000 kip (drop off on Route 13 and includes ferry to Don Khong).
Pakse departs at 11:00. Takes 4 hrs and costs 50,000 kip.
Pakse (songthaew) departs Nakasang local bus station between 06:00 and 10:00 and costs 30,000 kip.
Savannakhet departs at 11:00. Takes 9 hrs and costs 100,000 kip.
Tha Khaek departs at 11:00. Takes 10.5 hrs and costs 110,000 kip.
Vientiane departs at 11:00. Takes 19.5 hrs and costs 185,000 kip.
It’s also possible to book through-tickets to Vietnam and Thailand, but you’ll be changing buses in either Pakse or Savannaket.
Heading to Thailand
Bangkok departs at 11:00. Costs 290,000 kip
Ubon departs at 11:00. Costs 100,000 kip.
Heading to Vietnam
Da Nang departs at 11:00. Takes 24 hrs and costs 330,000 kip.
Dong Ha departs at 11:00. Takes 24.5 hrs and costs 280,000 kip.
Hue departs at 11:00. Takes 23 hrs and costs 290,000 kip
Starting early morning, boats run between Nakasang on the mainland and Don Dhet. There’s plenty of boat activity before noon and service starts to taper off in the afternoon. A sign at the booth says closed at 20:00 but as night falls, the more unlikely the boat is to go. Buy a ticket at the booth (boat mafia) at Nakasang’s boat landing. The journey takes 10-minutes, one-way ticket costs 15,000 kip per person usually requiring a minimum of two passengers to depart, though one time we were immediately whisked away solo. Otherwise, it’s usually 30,000 kip for one person. After daytime hours expect to pay extra.
If you’re too late to get a boat and are stuck in Nakasang, there’s Onpaseuth Guesthouse. It’s run down, basic but ok for a short night. With air-con and private bathroom, it’s 100,000 kip.
If bringing over a bicycle or motorbike, there’s a ferry (basically a pontoon-type made with two boats and a platform welded on). It will cost a few thousand kip more. Note: getting on/off the ferry with the motorbike is difficult at both landings due to a steep ramp which doesn’t meet flush with the ferry. Don’t end up in the Mekong with the motorbike!
Don Dhet’s main boat landing is at the northern tip of the island, Ban Hua Dhet. There’s a second minor landing at the former French pier, located 1.5 km down the eastern coast. Tour groups usually dock here as it’s easier to disembark with steps leading up the banks to the “bus station”, a lot of tuk tuks waiting to whisk tourists to Li Phi waterfall. Songthaews from Pakse often head to a landing south of Nakasang, and boats departing from there arrive here. The boat from Nakasang can drop you off at this pier for an additional 5,000 kip — if staying near here, it’ll save you from the walk with your pack. When buying the ticket tell them you want to go to Ban Don Dhet and “taka pan”, meaning where the small trucks are.
When purchasing a bus ticket to another destination such as Pakse or Cambodia, the price of the ticket usually includes the boat to Nakasang. If leaving Don Dhet solo for whatever reason — for example, you are doing a day trip to Khone Pha Pheng, you need the ATM in Nakasang, you are taking the local bus — the most economic way is to join the waves of departures from the island. There’s an exodus at 08:00 for those headed to Cambodia, 11:00 for those going north to Pakse. Price will be 15,000 kip.
To other destinations
From Don Dhet, boats can also take you to other islands of Si Phan Don.
A boat to Don Som is 10,000 kip or 15,000 kip with a bicycle. If returning to Don Dhet, it’s best to arrange for a pick up time though many families on Don Som have a boat and you can probably find someone to hire for a return transfer.
Boat travel from Don Dhet to destinations further afield is less common now since it requires going against the current and road transport is far cheaper. This is true for Don Khong, especially now that it is connected to the mainland by a bridge. You’ll have to ask around for the latest situation. We were told a public boat sometimes departs for Don Khong and Champasak at 11:00. Price depends on the number of passengers, around 40,000 kip per person. For a private boat, we were quoted 300,000 kip.
The most interesting way to travel to Cambodia is by boat. It does take some coordination and will cost more, but imagine arriving into Stung Treng from Laos by river. X-Plore Laos is an agent/tour operator in Pakse that can make the arrangements, which are a little complicated logistically with ground transport, boat and paperwork involved. Once you get to Nakasang, it’s a minivan to the border where you go through both passport/immigration, then you actually have to return to the Lao side (that’s where the paperwork comes in handy) to get on the boat in Veun Kham. It’s two hours of magnificent scenery puttering down to Stung Treng. Door to door, based on a group of four, it’s US$48 per person, US$80 per person based on two. Try to rally other travellers to join, it’s a lot more memorable than being squished into a van. T:(031) 212 893; http://xplore-laos.com/
Don Dhet’s dirt paths and dodgy makeshift bridges are manageable by foot or by bicycle, which are found for rent at any guesthouse for 10,000 kip. Conditions are extremely mucky in rainy season and the majority of bikes are the cheap ones that resemble oversized kids bicycles when what you really need is a heavy duty mountain bike. If heading over to explore Don Khon, it’s worth shopping around for one in decent condition.
A head torch comes in very handy at night. Cycling in the dark is not recommended.
Any backpacker travelling around Southeast Asia would expect a mob of touts and tuk tuks to greet an arriving boat. But this is Don Dhet. If arriving outside of the wave of arrivals from Pakse or Cambodia, it may be hard to scare up transport. Walking is the primary option. Maybe you’ll find someone for a transfer by motorbike or boat. Another option is to immediately rent a bicycle in town – so long as you can manage the bumpy cycle with your backpack.
The old French pier is about 1.5 km down the eastern side — if you are staying on the east side, it’s worth investigating if your accommodation is close to this pier. When buying your boat ticket at Ban Nakasang, tell them you need to go to Ban Don Dhet and the “taka pan” (where the small trucks are). It should cost an extra 5,000 kip.
A final possibility for booked accommodation far away from the boat landing, whether east side or west side they may have a boat to pick you up. Trying to arrange it will be challenging if they don’t speak English (or you don’t speak Lao).
To get from Don Dhet to Don Khon, a motorbike or samlo (motorbike with attached side seat) will cost 20,000 to 25,000 kip. A tuk tuk from Don Dhet village is 40,000 to 50,000 kip, the best option when the roads are muddy. A toll of 35,000 kip is payable when you cross the bridge, admission to Li Phi waterfall included in the price.